I need to create a simple will so my property goes to the right person upon my death. Has anyone done this online, without an expensive lawyer? I know it varies from state-to-state, but I am looking for opinions…
I have not and of course not a lawyer, but I wouldn’t think you would need a lawyer if you have a relatively uncomplicated estate. If you are married and trying to leave stuff to someone else, you might get into some issues, but if you’re single and just want your stuff to go to your best friend and there are no shared assets, two witnesses and a piece of paper are about all you need from what I understand.
I used Legalzoom.com when I was last single. My current wife and I used an attorney to update our wills, the attorney thought my will was very well done compared to my wife’s. She used an attorney she found on Craigslist.
I am a lawyer and can say that self-propagated wills are unusual. Not wrong or bad. But rare.
In my own practise we charged nothing for a will for an existing client. For other people $100-250. That is cheap given most of us have at least $50,000 in assets when we die. It is surprising how it all adds up.
The problem with doing it yourself is you can overlook things.
“My house to my sister. The remaining estate to my brother.”
What about the share certificate in the house? By law that also goes to the sister. But that is not what you wanted.
I remember tracing a share certificate to an English company in 1948. It wasn’t worth much then but by 2000 it was very valuable. Without a will and a lawyer to track things down, this would have simply disappeared. Nobody would know to claim it.
Thanks for the info. It’s not so much just the expense of it as it is the difficulty in finding a good lawyer. I’ve been down that road before and it’s not easy. And I’m in NYC — the land of lawyers —which actually makes it harder. So I figured I would just use software instead, if I can.
I’ve heard good things about legalzoom as well.
We used Nolo Quicken Willmaker Plus, I believe. It wasn’t too hard and it steered us through neatly. In addition to creating us a trust and wills, it also created healthcare powers of attorney and end-of-life directives.
If you want it done right, hire a lawyer. If you want to roll the dice and risk making a mistake you’ll be too dead to fix, go ahead and do it yourself.
Unless things have changed recently, some jurisdictions require a do-it-yourself will to be handwritten; otherwise it’s not considered valid.
Since you are looking for opinions, and this involves legal advice, let’s move this to IMHO (from GQ).
Many state recognize a holographic will.
Lawyer here, married to a lawyer. We wrote our own wills decades ago - tho neither experienced in stiffs and gifts. Our main concern was that we had young kids and wanted to name guardians. We’ve discussed updating them, but don’t think it overly important. We hold everything jointly, so if one of us dies, the other already owns it all. So the only ssue would be if we both died simultaneously in a firey crash or something.
If you have a simple estate, there should be no problem writing your own using the best on-line resources you can find and researching what your state requires. (In my opinion, it is unfortunate that so many people feel they NEED to have attys to perform many straightforward actions.) If all you own is a house, your possessions, and some investments/savings, and you are simply saying, “I leave everything to my spouse, and if they die before me, to be split equally among any surviving kids.” Name your most responsible relative as an executor. Toss “per stirpes” in there, just to sound like you know what you are doing!
Think of it this way - your essentially doing the same thing that would happen if you died intestate. Name the people you want to get it on all of your insurance and savings/investment accounts. If you have minor kids, you might want to name guardians - if you think folk will be fighting over who gets the little monsters!
Now, if you want to make sure something special goes to your brother, or you want to screw your no-account youngest son out of anything, that would be easier to screw up. Or if you have large, complicated holdings. But you still have to assess how much you want to spend to avoid what kind of confusion. Or how likely is it that someone will come out of the woodwork to contest the will?
You can go a step further and put everything in trust, but I think as a general rule that is not necessary until you are out of your house and in assisted living.
Don’t worry too much about getting “a good lawyer.” A simple will is - well - pretty simple. Just ask the bar association for lawyers who specialize in estates and are in good standing, and pick the one nearest to your home or office. Should only cost $600 or so. How much peace of mind will that buy you? As someone observed upthread - you’ll be dead! Speaking of which, more important than a will may be a “living will” and naming a health care power of attorney - if you care what happens to you should you become incapacitated. Again - in IL, the requirements for those are statutory and very clear. Simple enough to find and download the necessary forms.
What if a child predeceases you, leaving grandchildren? That language could leave those grandkids out in the cold. Again, if someone cares about getting it right, they should hire a lawyer.
That’s why you throw in the “per stirpes” language to pretend like you know what you are doing. (seriously, it applies to the situation you describe, where, for example, the grandchildren slide into the place of their deceased parents).
Another lawyer here, and another one who’s opinion is that not everybody needs a will. A will is important if you suspect that people will fight over whatever you have left when you die; if you know that you can just leave a list of wishes that your family will follow, then you don’t have anything to worry about (I know, I know…people get greedy. But, seriously, my grandmother only had the meager possessions in her home - I got the figurine of Christopher Colombus looking at a globe. There isn’t always stuff to fight over).
More importantly, you absolutely don’t need a will for a) real estate (how it is handled after you die can be specified in the deed by which title is taken), b) bank accounts (designate a person to be “payable on death” - they will get access with your death certificate), and c) life insurance - just designate a beneficiary.
After those assets, what else is left? Priceless art? Cars? Clothes? Knick knacks? You can put together a will to control where they go when you die, but that’s often just not that important. Either the stuff is truly random odds and ends, or the family has already decided who gets what, or there’s enough harmony that a squabble isn’t going to happen.
This might vary depending on state.
I live in California, and am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that if you have any sizable assets at all, you want a trust, because probate is slow and expensive in CA, and a trust bypasses much of that slowness and expense.
The problem with assuming your will is simple and that you don’t need a lawyer is: how would you know?
A will is always simple if it’s not contested. The complication is all in how you resolve disputes if it is contested. So, you need to ask yourself, is anyone likely to contest anything, and if so, why or how, and how would you like it resolved. At some point in this process, a lawyer becomes very useful, because they’ll know (for instance) what situations are likely to come up where someone contests something (like the grandchildren question Oakminster mentioned-- You might not have thought of that possibility, but an estate lawyer would have).
To expound on this somewhat:
The point of a will is to transfer ownership of your stuff after you are dead and, accordingly, no longer own it. A trust makes this unnecessary.
A trust is a separate entity from you that can own your stuff, which then authorizes you (as a beneficiary of the trust) to get the benefit of that stuff. The idea is, when you die, there’s no need to determine who the new owner is - it is still owned by the trust. The only thing that changes is who benefits from the trust, and that is specified in the trust itself (usually, who benefits doesn’t even change that dramatically, since there can be more than one beneficiary; all the trust is doing is removing you as one such person, since you are dead).
So, the reason a trust bypasses the “slowness and expense” of probate is because probate is about changing the ownership of stuff, whereas a trust avoids the need to change any ownership. Internally, the trustee (that is, the person obligated to follow whatever rules the trust laid out) can just apply the trust obligations seamlessly without additional legal proceedings.
To accomplish this, though, the trust must first own the stuff. This requires stuff to be transferred to the trust, and at this point, I think it’s worth repeating that some things don’t need for that to happen to be transferred post-mortem. Life insurance doesn’t need to go into the trust - it can identify a beneficiary at its inception. Bank accounts don’t need to go into the trust - they can be accessed by heirs through the use of a POD (payable on death) form at the bank. And real estate doesn’t need to go into the trust - it can be conveyed upon death via deed.
Point being, a trust sounds very fancy, and therefore might be presumed important, but that doesn’t necessarily make it useful. What would the trust own?? (Many of the asserts I listed do go into trusts, but they don’t need to).
In actuality, the best reason to establish a trust is if you want to dole out money or other assets in increments, or over time, with far more control (this explains the reference to assisted living by Dinsdale - a trust can be used to pay obligations as they come due). In a will, you can put conditions on things you leave to other people, but once they meet those conditions they can do with their inheritance as they wish. Since a trust is being operated by a trustee, who is fulfilling the rules of the trust (which is to say, the conditions you as the settlor, or creator, of the trust wrote down), you can impose obligations on the trustee or the trust that will continue after you’re gone. It’s a form of control, far more than a fiscal strategy.
I did the same. Steam version.
As far as disposing of real estate, I think only about half the states recognize a transfer-on-death deed.
Thanks you for all the info! My situation is pretty simple, so it shouldn’t be too difficult…